Review of Devens’ Bandits – NBC Boston

Review of Devens’ Bandits – NBC Boston

Review of Devens’ Bandits – NBC Boston

Among Massachusetts’s two major east-west highways, one offers drivers more dining options, including some true hidden gems.

Travelers traveling the Mass. Pike often prefer to stop at gas stations for food, because it is a toll road with relatively few exits. But Route 2 to the north is quite different—it has no tolls, plenty of exits, and part of the “highway” is not really a highway at all, but a traditional two-lane road, especially the farther west you go (the stretch west of Greenfield is almost entirely two lanes).

One of those hidden gems of Route 2 is located just a couple of miles off the highway, but is almost completely unknown, perhaps because it is located inside a former military installation that might seem like the last place for a restaurant worth going to. But Bandoleros Mexican Grill is all that and more, a place that ticks all the boxes, including food, service and atmosphere.

Devens used to be the largest military post in New England, but it was decommissioned in the mid-1990s and is now a residential and commercial hub. It’s a bit of an odd place, as parts of it remain off-limits to the public. While it’s considered its own community, it actually falls within three towns: Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley. —and does not have its own post office, library, public school system or city hall.

It does, however, have a village center of sorts, where its residents (who number just under 2,000) can go to buy food, gas, and do some shopping, though the Ayer shopping district, a few minutes north, is usually where locals go for their daily needs. To say that the “downtown” area of ​​Devens is quiet would be an understatement, but Devens Common is attractive in its own way, with plenty of green space and a relaxed atmosphere, and right in the middle of it is Bandoleros, which is easy to miss from Jackson Road, the main route through Devens, though it sits just off the street.

Bandoleros first opened in Devens in 2021, taking over the space that was once home to Devens Grill; the restaurant went through extensive renovations before opening, and diners will find it spacious, with a quiet dining room to the right that includes banquettes and couch-like chairs, a chic sitting area to the left with counter seating along with a handful of high-top tables, and a spacious patio overlooking the common area just outside the bar. Paintings of famous Mexican figures adorn the walls inside, and dim lighting helps give the place an intimate, cozy feel. Outside, customers will find plenty of parking, and the large common space outside is a nice place to take a quiet stroll after enjoying some food and drinks.

More often than not, Mexican restaurants in the Boston suburbs and beyond tend to focus on such familiar fare as nachos, quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and chimichangas, and Bandoleros certainly offers all of these items, but the restaurant feels a bit more upscale than many of the small, independent Mexican restaurants that dot the region, as well as some of the Mexican and Tex-Mex chains out there — their menu reflects this with a number of made-from-scratch items that may not be as familiar to those who tend to go to Mexican-American restaurants.

And the “familiar” dishes aren’t so familiar, as they tend to be more inventive in both their ingredients and presentation. Take homemade blue corn quesadillas, for example; they’re a world away from the overly cheesy quesadillas you might find at a chain or the local pub, and the roasted poblanos, portobello mushrooms, pickled onions, spicy crema, and spicy pico de gallo combine to make this small plate a memorable dish that could easily be duplicated and turned into a full meal.

Taco options are plentiful here, with the al pastor option being the real standout, featuring tender marinated pork, fresh pineapple, and a nice blend of cilantro and onions.

One of the best dishes on Bandoleros’ menu may be the extraordinary torta ahogada, which has its roots in Jalisco in west-central Mexico and is basically a pork and bean sandwich drenched in a spicy Creole sauce.

A simple but tasty dish that you might not see that often is choripollo, which features a mixture of chicken and chorizo ​​in a hearty cheese sauce and served on a bed of rice.

Seafood lovers have a few options, including the shrimp sauce, which features jumbo sautéed shrimp served with avocado and rice, and can be ordered with a sweat-inducing diabla sauce.

Much like the food offerings, the bar items at Bandoleros go far beyond basic drinks, with fresh ingredients that may mean you have to wait a few minutes for your drinks to be prepared, but the wait is worth it.

The margaritas here are works of art and use organic agave, while the Elmer’s Wahakan is their take on the old-fashioned and is notable for its use of mezcal. The Diablito may not be for the faint of heart, as it uses ghost tequila (yes, it’s made with a dash of ghost chili), mixing the spiciness with the sweet-sour flavors of tamarind. A “safer” drink might be the Pepefino, which has a woody, herbaceous flavor from the use of gin, cucumber, and rosemary.

Bandoleros also offers beer and wine, as well as an extensive list of tequilas ranging from the basic Patrón to a budget-busting Clase Azul Ultra that costs more than $400.

Devens is a fascinating place with a lot of history behind it, but many tend to pass it by, perhaps because it seems off-limits to visitors. But in fact, it is open to everyone (well, most, anyway) and is a welcoming place, one of the many communities just off Route 2 that are worth visiting. One of the main reasons to visit Devens is this little-known Mexican restaurant that locals know for its food, drink, and hospitality.

Bandoleros Mexican Grill, 4 Ryan’s Way, Devens, MA, 01434.

(Editor’s note: A second Bandoleros location opened earlier this year and can be found in Concord.)